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MacBook Air 2014 v 2013: Specs and price comparison

30 Apr 2014

New Apple Macbook Air line-up side-by-side

On Tuesday Apple made a quiet update to its MacBook Air range. Rather than the usual razzmatazz of a new Apple unveiling, this time the firm issued a release and left it at that.

What’s new, and what's missing?
The low-key announcement was probably due to the fact the only clear difference between the new Macbook Air devices and the old ones is a slightly improved CPU, which has increased from an Intel iCore 1.3GHz processor to 1.4GHz.

Perhaps more notable was the (disappointing) fact that Apple has not updated the screens for the MacBook Air 2014 range to include its Retina display technology.

Mac aficionados will no doubt be hoping Apple adds this to the range at its next big unveiling, possibly in September. Apple rumours have also suggested a 12in model will be unveiled later this year sporting the Retina display technology.

As such, those considering a new MacBook may decide to wait until later in the year.

Price cuts
One area of improvement that could tempt buyers is the price. Apple has lopped £100 off the cost of the cheapest device, so the 11.6in display model starts from £749 when bought with 128GB of flash storage.

For 256GB of flash storage the price is £899. This is a saving of £130 compared to the same model from the 2013 range.

Meanwhile the 13.3in model starts from £849 with 128GB flash storage and rises to £999 with 256GB of flash storage. That represents a saving of either £100 or £130, compared to last year's models.

For those in the market for a Mac, being able to pick up an Air device from £749 could well prove enticing. The screenshot below from the Apple page shows the price differences:

New Apple Macbook Air line-up

Best of the rest
While the rest of the specs have not changed from the previous Air range, it is still worth running over what you get for your money:

                            11in model                       13in model

Storage:           128GB or 256GB                128GB or 256GB
Weight:            1.08 kg                              1.35 kg
Dimensions:     30x19.2x.1.7cm                 32.5x22.7x1.7cm
Battery:            Nine hours                         12 hours
Screen:            11.6in, 1366x768                13.3in, 1440x900

Both devices also have a 720HD front-facing camera for FaceTime calls and 4GB of memory. They also both offer two USB 3 ports and a Thunderbolt port.

Is it worth the upgrade?
For those on an existing 2013 Air device it seems not. The only difference is a minor boost in compute power, which while nice, is never worth buying a whole new device.

However, for those considering a Mac, the temptation will only grow. The reduced cost alongside the same high-end specs Apple has always offered is a strong pull.

With many not interested in the new Windows 8 operating system, and increasingly comfortable using iOS devices, the decision to move to Apple's laptops to complete the set just got a lot more enticing.

New Apple Macbook Air line-up 13in model

The new 13in Apple Macbook Air

Galaxy S5 vs Nexus 5 spec by spec

11 Apr 2014

The Samsung Galaxy S5 arrived on UK shelves on Friday 11 April, and the Korean firm will be hoping to steal users away from rival smartphones such as the Google Nexus 5.

While the Google Nexus 5 debuted last October, the device still sports top-end specifications, and has so far managed to win over users' affections due to its vanilla Android 4.4 Kitkat mobile operating system and affordable price, with the handset retailing from £299, making it more than £200 cheaper than the Galaxy S5.

Here we compare the specs of the Samsung Galaxy S5 against the Nexus 5 to see which one is worth your money. 

Windows 8.1 Update hands-on review

11 Apr 2014

Microsoft's Windows 8.1 Update was made generally available for users to download on 8 April, a week after it was officially announced and released to subscribers of Microsoft's MSDN service.

As detailed by Microsoft, the update adds a number of changes to improve usability for desktop and laptop users working with a mouse and keyboard instead of a touchscreen. In doing so, the Windows 8.1 Update more successfully integrates the Desktop and Start screen environments than earlier builds of Microsoft's platform, though possibly not enough to please those hungering for the return of the Start menu.

We downloaded the Windows 8.1 Update by checking for it via Windows Update, but it only appeared once we had installed all other pending updates to bring our Windows 8.1 system completely up to date. Users who are not in a hurry do not need to do anything, as it will be distributed via Windows Update the usual way over the coming weeks. The update itself was over 800MB in size, and took some time to download and install.

Windows 8.1 Update Start screenFor those using a tablet, the changes may not be too apparent at first. The Start screen and its array of tiles look pretty much the same, save for the addition of a Search tool shortcut and a power button, tapping which enables you to shutdown, restart or put the system to sleep directly from the home screen (shown left).

Perhaps the most noticeable change on our test system was that Windows goes straight to the Desktop rather than the Modern UI Start screen after signing in, though this can be configured by the user.

However, users still need to go to the Start screen in order to open any applications, apart from Internet Explorer and the Windows Store, both of which are now pinned to the taskbar on the Desktop by default.

For those users with a desktop or laptop that lacks a touchscreen, it is fair to say that Windows 8 has been a bit unwieldy to use. In an attempt to address this, the Windows 8.1 Update adds minimise and close buttons that appear at top right if you move the mouse pointer to the top of the screen in any Modern UI app. Likewise, the Windows taskbar now pops up if you move the mouse pointer to the bottom of the screen (see below), even on the Start screen, and context-sensitive menus appear if you right-click on tiles.

Windows 8.1 Update showing taskbar

One interesting change is that Modern UI apps such as the built-in Mail or Weather tools now show on the taskbar (see below), allowing you to switch between them from the Desktop environment. Although the Modern UI apps still look the same, taking up the entire screen rather than running in a Window, this small change starts to make the Start screen and Desktop environments feel more integrated rather than two distinctly separate spaces.

Windows 8.1 Update desktop

One feature we did not test out is Enterprise Mode for IE11, which renders websites as if the user were running an older version of the browser, to handle compatibility issues with corporate websites and apps. This feature is hidden by default and must be enabled via an administrator using Group Policy.

Overall, the Windows 8.1 Update shows that Microsoft has been hearing the complaints of Windows users and is moving to address them. The software giant has perhaps not gone quite far enough yet to satisfy those users distraught over the loss of the traditional Start button and menus, but it does offer a greatly improved experience over the original Windows 8 and perhaps offers hints of what we can expect to see in Windows 9 next year.

For a full list of what's new in Windows 8.1 Update, see Microsoft's Windows website.

Nokia Lumia 930 hands-on review

03 Apr 2014

Nokia has been championing Windows Phone for several years now, releasing a steady stream of business-friendly handsets full of innovative security and productivity services. This effort has paid off to a large extent, with Windows Phone's market share growing from less than three percent to just over 10 percent since Nokia launched its first Windows Phone, the Lumia 800.

According to Nokia Windows Phone has had particular success in the corporate space, with UK president Conor Pierce claiming the OS currently has an impressive 18 percent share of the business market. For this reason it's unsurprising Nokia's chosen to continue its enterprise conquest push and has unveiled a new Windows Phone 8.1-powered Lumia 930 flagship handset it claims is its most business friendly to date.

Design and build
Visually, like all Nokia smartphones, the Lumia 930 has a colourful, distinctive design that is slightly reminiscent of the firm's previous Lumia 925 Windows Phone. The Lumia 930 has metallic, angular sides and a coloured polycarbonate backplate.Nokia Lumia 930 hands on desk

Size-wise the Lumia 930 measures in at 137x71x9.8mm and weighs 167g. This puts it on a par with most 5in handsets, like HTC's latest 146x71x9.4mm, 160g One M8. This means that smartphone users accustomed to smaller handsets, like the Apple iPhone 5S or Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, may find the Lumia 930 slightly unwieldy. However, despite its increased size, during our hands-on we found the Lumia 930 was still fairly comfortable in hand and wasn't overly cumbersome.

We were also reasonably impressed with the Nokia Lumia 930's build quality. Pushing down on the Lumia 930's back we found the clipped-in polycarbonate plate offered no give. The phone also felt reasonably scratch proof and in general left us feeling suitably reassured it could survive the accidental bump or scrape.

Display
Nokia's loaded the Lumia 930 with a 5in Full HD, 1920x1080, 441ppi organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display.

Testing the Lumia 930's display in the well-lit Nokia press room we were very impressed. Colours displayed on Windows Phone's tiled user interface appeared vibrant and rich and the display featured dazzlingly good brightness levels - so much so that it began to hurt our eyes using it at maximum brightness. Text displayed on the screen was also crisp and the screen boasted significantly wider viewing angles than most competing 5in smartphones.

Operating system and software
One of the Lumia 930's most interesting and potentially biggest selling points is its use of Microsoft's latest Windows Phone 8.1 (WP8.1) operating system. WP8.1 adds a variety of new features to Windows Phone. Some of these are quite consumer focused, like the ability to set a background image in the main UI and increased theme options for the phone's lock screen, though many have undeniable business appeal.

These include key things like Skype being directly integrated into the phone's dialler app, a new productivity-focused Calendar user interface, 'Cortana' voice assistant and 'Action Center' quick alert service.Nokia Lumia 930 hands on back

The Cortana service offers similar functionality to Apple's Siri and lets users do things like launch specific applications or mount web searches with voice commands. The Action Centre pull-down notifications menu is similar to the one seen on Google's Android operating system.

WP8.1 also comes with a number of under the hood mobile device management (MDM) upgrades designed to improve the OS' appeal to IT managers and enterprise-level companies. The upgrades include newly added Line of Business application and certificate management powers and inbuilt secure/multipurpose internet mail extension (S/MIME) and virtual private network (VPN) support.

Performance
The Nokia Lumia 930 is powered by a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor and features 2GB of RAM. This puts the Lumia 930 one step shy of running on Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 801 chip.

However, despite running on last year's chip, during our hands-on we never once noticed a performance issue using the Lumia 930. Testing the Lumia 930 we found it ran perfectly smoothly and opened applications in milliseconds. Sadly we didn't get a chance to benchmark the Lumia 930 or see how it coped with more demanding tasks, like 3D gaming, though we'll be sure to do this for our full review.

Camera
Despite carrying Nokia's prestigious Pureview branding, the Lumia 930 doesn't feature the 41MP camera sensor debuted on its predecessor the Lumia 1020. Instead the Lumia 930 comes loaded with a 20MP rear camera complete with Zeiss optics.Nokia Lumia 930 hands on photo

Testing the Lumia 930's camera by taking a few quick pictures around the press room we noticed the new Windows Phone's camera is far more responsive than the 1020's, which at times could feel fairly laggy. Image quality was also very good, with images captured on the Lumia 930 generally coming out looking sharp and featuring decent colour and contrast levels.

Battery and storage
The Lumia 930 is powered by a 2,420mAh battery that Nokia lists as offering users 15.5 hours' talktime and up to nine hours' video playback. We didn't get a chance to test the Lumia 930's battery during our hands-on, but if the handset matches Nokia's claims the phone's battery will be better than average, with most handsets in its size range offering 6.5 to seven hours of video playback. As an added bonus Nokia's also loaded wireless charging to the Lumia 930, meaning users will be able to quickly and easily top up the phone's battery throughout the day.

Storage-wise the Lumia 930 comes with a reasonable 32GB built in. Sadly the Lumia 930 doesn't have a microSD card slot, meaning users won't be able to upgrade the phone's storage after purchase.

Chances
Our opening experience with the Nokia Lumia 930 has been very positive. While the handset doesn't have the technology "wow" factor of its predecessor, the Lumia 1020, which was the first ever Windows Phone to feature a 41MP camera, during our hands-on we discovered plenty of software features to get excited about.

Our only concern about the Lumia 930 is that Nokia is yet to release one key detail about the smartphone - its price. Without this key bit of information, knowing the phone's exact chances in the increasingly competitive top-end device market is difficult.

The Nokia Lumia 930 is set to arrive in the UK in June. Check back with V3 then for a full review of the Nokia Lumia 930.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Microsoft Office apps: Word, Excel and PowerPoint for iPad hands-on

28 Mar 2014

Word screenshot from Office for iPad app

Microsoft has finally unveiled versions of its Word, Excel and PowerPoint tools for the iPad. New CEO Satya Nadella unveiled the tools on Thursday, as he begins his tenure as the firm’s new leader with a focus on mobility and cloud.

The apps are now available to download from the iTunes store, although Apple hasn’t given Microsoft the honour of any home screen banner splash, so you’ll have to search to find them.

Once you do, each requires downloading separately, and you’ll want to be by a good WiFi connection, as each app is over 200MB in size. The PowerPoint app is 205MB, the Excel app is 221MB and Word is a hefty 246MB.

Each app is built around the same design style as Microsoft’s Windows 8 platform, with soft fonts and logos, and it looks nice. The apps all load quickly and are easy to navigate, and switch between portrait and landscape orientation immediately.

From there on in, though, to get the most from the apps you will need an Office 365 subscription. Without one, you can do nothing more than simply open and view documents in the apps which, while handy, doesn’t really provide much use.

With a subscription, though, you can use them to their full potential. Each of the three apps provides a raft of template documents, presentations and spreadsheets – shown below for Excel and above for Word.

Excel for iPad app from Microsoft

Using the apps is straightforward, with Microsoft keeping the familiar look and feel of the tools while incorporating the features of the iPad everyone knows well.

Typing in a Word document, for instance, is simple using the iPad keyboard, while the usual editing and formatting capabilities are easily accessed (shown below). In Excel you can pinch-to-zoom so you can view hundreds of cells at once, or zoom to a specific cell to view information.

Word for iPad screenshot 

PowerPoint is also nice to use, with text boxes easily moved by dragging them around the display using your finger, while a nice touch allows you to press and hold to call up a laser point graphic (pictured below).

This is a nice touch and shows the thought Microsoft has put into making the tools as user friendly as possible, no doubt to cement its position as the top dog in the business software world as it looks to meet the needs of its "billion-plus" user base, according to Nadella.

Laser point in PowerPoint for Office for iPad app

All-in-all at first look the three apps on the iPad are impressive. They show that Microsoft has fully recognised the need to provide a high-quality experience for its key businesses tools; it can no longer ignore the popularity of the iPad for busy business folk.

Whether it hampers attempts to flog its own tablets by removing any of their unique selling points around Office software remains to be seen, but with a new man at the helm, Microsoft is clearly willing to move into new areas and recognise the realities of the new IT market.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy Note 3 spec by spec

27 Mar 2014

With a 5.1in HD 1080p display it's not exactly small, but when it comes to size, the Samsung Galaxy S5 still can't compete with the the Galaxy Note 3 'phablet' and its larger 5.7in screen. Here we compare the two devices' on-paper specifications to find out which is the best option.

HTC One M8 hands-on review

25 Mar 2014

HTC has been developing a reputation for building unique-looking, top-end Android smartphones. This trend peaked in 2013 when the Taiwanese firm released its HTC One flagship smartphone, also known as the M7. Featuring a distinctive metal design and offering top-end performance, the HTC One M7 was one of our favourite Android smartphones to come out last year.

For this reason it's not surprising that HTC has chosen not to rework the wheel for its latest One M8 flagship smartphone. Instead it has refined – rather than redefined – its device offering.

Design and build
The HTC One M8 looks like an evolved, slightly sharper-looking version of its predecessor. The One M8 features a single-piece, slightly curved metal chassis that wraps around the sides of the device to connect its Gorilla Glass front.

The grey review unit we tested had a slightly textured finish. An HTC spokesman on hand told us this was the result of a specific finishing process that sees engineers coat the metal with more than 170 different oils. The metallic and slightly grooved finish made the HTC One M8 one of the most comfortable 5in smartphones we've ever held.HTC One M8 hands on V3

Ports-wise, the HTC One M8 is also fairly generously stocked, featuring nano SIM, micro SD and micro USB ports.

While it's not IP certified like the Sony Xperia Z2 or Samsung Galaxy S5, the HTC One M8 does feel very solidly built. The handset's metal chassis offered no give under pressure and left us suitably assured that it could survive the odd accidental bump or scrape. The chassis also felt far more scratch resistant than that of the One M7.

Display
HTC has loaded the One M8 with a 5in full HD, 441ppi display. Under the showroom's bright lights we were fairly impressed by how well it performed. Text and icons on the One M8 looked suitably crisp, and colour and brightness levels were great.

The only issue we noticed with the display occurred when we tried to use it near a window. As is the case on 99 percent of all the smartphones we review, the One M8's screen regularly picked up stray light and became slightly difficult to use.

Operating system and software
The HTC One M8 runs Google's latest Android 4.4.2 KitKat software overlaid with HTC's custom Sense 6.0 skin.

Sense 6.0 changes Android's core user interface in a variety of ways. The most obvious is its use of the latest version of HTC's BlinkFeed news aggregation service as the One M8's main home screen. BlinkFeed is a custom push update service debuted on the original HTC One M7. It works to push content from relevant news outlets and social media accounts to the user, via a tiled interface.

The new version of BlinkFeed expands the service to include a number of new news outlets and also adds a new "bundle" feature, which lets the user instruct BlinkFeed to only push updates about certain keywords, hashtags or topics to the user. This means you can set up the feed to only alert you to news from specific trade shows, or companies.

HTC One M8 hands on BlinkFeed

The One M8 also features a number of new gesture control options. The gesture controls let you wake the One M8 from sleep by double tapping the screen or return straight to the phone's home screen by swiping left from its right-hand side.

We were impressed by how well the gesture controls worked and can definitely see them proving useful to users who want to access certain services quickly.

Performance
The HTC One M8's use of Qualcomm's brand new quad-core Snapdragon 801 chip is one of its biggest selling points. The Snapdragon 801 was unveiled at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, and Qualcomm claims it offers vastly superior performance compared with earlier mobile chips. Our opening impressions of the One M8 are very positive when it comes to performance.

Testing the demo One M8 unit we found it was one of the most responsive handsets we've ever used. It was able to open applications slightly faster than the One M7, which is still a very fast handset. Sadly we didn't get a chance to see how the One M8 dealt with more demanding tasks, such as 3D gaming, or properly benchmark it during our hands on, but we'll be sure to do this in our full review.

Camera
The HTC One M8 comes with a 5MP wide-angle front camera and an upgraded version of the 4.1MP UltraPixel rear camera debuted on the One M7. UltraPixel is a custom technology developed by HTC that works to improve the camera's performance by instructing the sensor to capture larger pixels than regular smartphones. This reportedly lets the One M8's rear camera capture 300 percent more light than competing handsets.

The upgraded rear camera features a new imaging co-processor and Duo Camera technology. Duo Camera is a new technology debuted on the One M8, which is designed to let the phone's rear camera capture spatial information. The spacial information collected by the Duo tech lets users retroactively adjust the point of focus on images in a custom gallery app.HTC One M8 back

The images we captured using the One M8 on the showroom floor were of a similar quality to those taken on the original One M7. They were reasonably crisp, featured decent colour and contrast levels and were more than good enough for use on most blogs or social media sites. We also found the Duo Camera technology worked reasonably well and let us quickly and easily tweak the test shots captured on our demo unit to focus on specific points.

Battery and storage
HTC has loaded the One M8 with a sizeable 2,600mAh battery, which it claims will offer users 30 hours of standby time off one charge. We didn't get a chance to test the One M8's battery during our hands on, but will be sure to do so in our full review.

Interestingly, HTC has chosen to load the One M8 with a slightly mediocre 16GB of internal storage. Luckily the One M8's storage can be upgraded using its micro SD card slot, meaning users who need the extra space can get it.

Chances
Overall our opening impressions of the HTC One M8 are positive. The device features a top-end and robust metal design that's packed with a variety of top-end internal components, the best of which is its new Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor.

However, with the Samsung Galaxy S5's release just around the corner, it's clear the HTC One M8 is going to face some pretty tough competition.

Check back with V3 soon for a full review of the HTC One M8.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Optinvent ORA Android smartglasses eyes-on review

20 Mar 2014

Optinvent is looking to cash in on the fledgling augmented reality glasses market with its ORA Android-powered eyewear. The firm will be shipping the device to developers from May, with a starting price of €699.

Multiple ORA devices were present at the Wearable Technology Show in London this week, so V3 took the chance to get some eyes-on time with Optinvent's kit.

Design and build

Michael Passingham wearing the Optinvent ORA glassesOptinvent is very clear that it's a hardware maker, not a software developer, so the design and build of the device should be the main focus here rather than its bare-bones version of Android and lack of fancy apps.

While chunky, the ORA feels fairly well built and has a number of design features that are intended to make it usable for all types of workers in various industries. We were particularly impressed with the mounting points for prescription lenses.

Optinvent were kind enough to bring along a selection of lenses to the event, and eventually found a pair that worked with this reporter's eyes. The prescription lenses slot in behind the main lenses of the ORA, which certainly isn't the most fashionable look, but in a work environment we imagine having clear vision will probably be a higher priority than fashionista status. The large outer lenses on the front of the device are made of photochromic glass, which reacts to sunlight and darkens in bright conditions.

There is a box – connected to the right-hand arm, which hooks over your ear – where all the action is. It includes a USB charging port, a microphone, a 5MP camera and proximity sensor, which are all ready and waiting for developers to create bespoke software.

Also connected to the right arm is the display itself, which comes in the form of a third lens piece that fits in between the prescription lenses and the front of the device. Finally, a rectangular touchpad surrounded by a bezel also features on the arm, and allows you to control the device by scrolling and tapping.

Looking through the Optivent ORA glasses

The arm moves up and down, which can place the display directly in the user's eyeline or just below it for quick glances.

The left arm of the device features the battery alone, which Optinvent said will last three hours with "intensive" use or eight hours with "typical" use. Quite what this means is unclear, but this is certainly a device that will only be used in specific situations, and will not be a companion for your everyday life.

At 80g the ORA isn't too heavy, and while they are very large when compared with normal glasses, we don't expect them to cause too much irritation with extended use.

Software and features
The Optinvent ORA is powered by Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, and features a very small-screen version of Google's operating system. The device is controlled using the touchpad, which moves a cursor. This is a fairly awkward affair as the pad itself is a long rectangle, meaning scrolling up and down is a lot harder than scrolling from side to side. You tap the touchpad to register a click, which is a fairly hit-and-miss affair depending on whether the headgear is securely mounted or not.

Side view of the Optinvent ORA

The interface itself is a bare-bones version of Android, which Optinvent hopes developers will augment with their own software. It's hard to judge the device on usability because of its lack of features at present, but with a microphone, WiFi, camera and motion sensors, there are going to be plenty of possibilities when the time comes.

Chances
At €699 this is a pricey device, which depends heavily on the developers Optinvent hopes will get involved. And whether developers and third-party companies choose the ORA over other kit on the market – such as Epson's Moverio glasses – remains to be seen.

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